I grew up in Germany, in a village outside Stuttgart. It’s a pretty traditional area where most people know each other and most speak Swabian, a German dialect that is almost impossible to understand for the un-indoctrinated.
I’m back home for a visit and we’re watching the evening news as we’ve always done. Today’s events: another 40 people died crossing the Mediterranean – amongst them 17 children. 10,000 refugee minors are declared missing. German Chancellor Angela Merkel still negotiates caps and asylum rights for refugees but country after country is closing its borders.
In the old days, we’d watch the news and then quickly forget such events as these: they happened far away. But now the news has come to us, and we must respond. A new reality has swept across Europe including Germany. So much has changed, and I’m filled with a mix of pride, hope and worry as my valley tries to adapt to the new reality of recent months.
Like many other communities in Germany, my village of some 5,000 people now hosts around 250 refugees from Africa, the Middle East, from Pakistan and Afghanistan. They live in mobile homes quickly erected in fields around the towns; some lucky families have been assigned a house.
But it’s not enough, neither in my village nor in other parts of Germany. Bus load after bus load arrive and the towns no longer know where to put all these people. At the village school there are no more sports classes – 60 refugees now live in the gymnasium. The meadow around our outdoor swimming pool is being cleared for new mobile homes for 60 more refugees. The streets are filled with people speaking Swabian and 40 plus other tongues. The pressure is rising and fear grows among locals and refugees alike.
Statistics show that in 2015 Germany alone took in one million refugees. Some 2016 projections are double this. What these numbers don’t convey are the individual stories of unimaginable suffering but also of hope. These people come to Germany because their own countries are unsafe: they have no hope for a better future. Many would go back if things were different. But things are not different and so, instead of going home, these refugees bring their families and encourage their friends to flee too.
So far, the majority of German people are trying to help – and I am incredibly proud of the many in my village who have welcomed the refugees. But I worry about how much longer this will be the case. Occurrences like the New Year’s incidents in Cologne spread fear, and fear can trigger anger that leads to passive – and active – aggression.
Refugees and displaced people are not just in Europe; it’s a rising global problem with repercussions felt everywhere. In 2015 UNHCR released its report “Worldwide displacement hits all-time high as war and persecution increase.” The reported numbers are shocking, “Globally, one in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. If this were the population of a country, it would be the world’s 24th biggest.” In 2014 almost 60 million people had been forcibly displaced, and the report predicts that the situation is likely to worsen further.
If you are reading this blog it’s likely that you are already very much aware of these statistics. You might even be actively involved in programs and projects that serve internally displaced persons or refugees, and working towards increasing equitable access to education. If so, we’d love to hear from you. USAID ECCN’s goal is to improve policy, planning and programming for education in crisis and conflict settings, and given the massive displacements occurring around the world, providing effective learning opportunities to displaced children and youth should be high on our agenda. To best highlight this issue and offer practical solutions, we need you: your passion, your knowledge, and your experience. Our collective insight can lead the way and USAID ECCN is here to convene and facilitate this process.
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